Deborah Ross

Trance: not Danny Boyle’s finest hour

Trance: not Danny Boyle's finest hour
Text settings


Nationwide, 15

Obviously, we all love Danny Boyle and want to have his babies — I’d like at least two of his babies — but his latest film, Trance, is a horrid mess. A psychological take on the art-heist film, it is miscast, iffily acted, confusing, implausible (to the extent I never fully understood what was happening) and is interspersed with bouts of horrible, ill-judged violence. In one instance, for example, a man gets shot in the penis. This need not be a dealbreaker necessarily but at some point, possibly before we’ve even had the first child, and to prevent such nonsense going any further, I will have to sit him down and say: ‘Danny, love, this shooting at penises has to stop. We’re going to be parents. Why not gardening? Or golf?’ Perhaps, after the redemptive feel of Slumdog and 127 Hours and the sheer joy of the Olympic opening ceremony, he felt he needed to produce something more visceral and Trainspotter-ish. Fair enough, but I so wish he hadn’t.

OK, the obligatory synopsis: Simon (James McAvoy) is a fine-art auctioneer who teams up with a criminal gang to steal a Goya. Problem is, after he’s cut the painting from the frame, he sustains a blow to the head and can’t remember where he has stashed it. The gang try torturing Simon — fingernails, I think; didn’t look — but when that fails, the gang leader, Franck (Vincent Cassel), suggests hypnotism. So Simon visits Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), a sultry hypnotist who claims she can get at whatever is buried in Simon’s mind. But is Elizabeth everything she seems? Is Simon a reliable narrator? If not golf or gardening, how about whittling? That’s a pleasant hobby and, at the end of the day, Danny, you may even get a spoon out of it!

This is a conceptual movie, although scarcely an original one. It will remind you of Inception and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as it darts back and forth in time, and interweaves reality with hypnotic states, dreams and false memories, and if I could have kept track of which was which, fine, but I could not. I accept this may well be my limitation. I have sometimes sat through entire mafia films without understanding who killed Frankie, or why. But I can only tell you what Trance was like for me, and it was frustratingly befuddling. What’s Simon’s motivation? Franck’s? Elizabeth’s? The film keeps you guessing and you know what? I’m still guessing. Or would be, if only I wasn’t so beyond caring. I think I may, in fact, have achieved Beyond Caring even while I was actually watching it. These are not characters you can care about. They may not even be particularly interesting.

As the future mother of two of Danny’s children, it pains me to say it, but I’ll say it all the same: Trance is so in love with its dream-within-dream conceits it pays little attention to anything else. It pays little attention to detail, and you know how such things bother me. How can you have a shoot-out in a London high-rise and not attract attention? How come there is always a parking space outside Elizabeth’s Harley Street practice? (Have you ever tried to park in Harley Street? Impossible! It’s bumper-to-bumper Mercs and Bentleys!). Also, how were the gang ever going to fence such a painting? We’re never told. And then we come back to the business of James McAvoy being venal. You know, I live in the same part of London as him, and have passed him in the street quite a few times, and not once have I ever thought: ‘There’s a man who would happily shoot another man in the penis.’ He has too much warmth. He just does. And he can’t seem to act his way out of that. (His opposite, to my mind, is someone like Viggo Mortensen, whose cheekbones are all bone, and no cheek, and could scare you shitless just passing the salt.) Meanwhile, although Ms Dawson is sexy and Mr Cassel is villainous, both Elizabeth and Franck are hardly credible characters. I got the feeling that even if I’d understood this film, I wouldn’t have believed it.

So not Danny’s greatest hour but, like I said, it needn’t be a dealbreaker, and there is enough goodwill out there to keep him going for quite a while yet. In time, I expect I’ll fully forgive him myself. If only for the sake of the children. No need to take it out on them.